The Disney Princess Project: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Less talk, more sawPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules

Disney decided in 2001 to try something new by releasing a movie that was darker, explosive-filled, violent movie with no wisecracking sidekicks or musical numbers. That film was “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” which ended up being lost like the titular setting due to it being released the summer of “Shrek”‘s release as well as not being a very good film.

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” starts off by showing people on hover vehicles avoiding an approaching wave. The wave is approaching Atlantis and as the residents panic, the queen is sucked into a bright light, saving the city, which sinks. Fast-forward to 1914 and Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is desperately trying to get funding for an expedition to find “The Shepherd’s Journal,” which he believes could lead to Atlantis. He is laughed off because it’s a fairy tale, but then he comes home to find Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), who is supposed to be a femme fatale character. She leads him to explorer Mr. Whitmore (JOHN MAHONEY) who reveals that the journal has been found and Whitmore is going to finance an expedition to Atlantis where Milo will be an expert in gibberish.

On the expedition, Milo meets his crew mates which includes Sinclair, Commander Rourke (James Garner), Mole (Corey Burton), Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), Vinny (Don Novello), Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), Packard (Florence Stanley) and Cookie (Jim Varney). After several mishaps, the crew eventually finds Atlantis and is greeted/cornered by Atlantians, led by Princess Kidagakash (Cree Summer), or Kida. However, the king (Leonard Nimoy) isn’t too pleased that they’re there. After some exploring, Milo finds out that Rourke and the crew wants to find the “Heart of Atlantis” and sell it on the surface, much to Milo’s dismay.

There are many problems with “Atlantis,” the first of which happens to be the plot. First of all, we what could have been a great action movie with a “find this first” doesn’t happen. The plot could have been reminiscent of Indiana Jones movies, but instead we have a quick resolution to the plot of Milo wanting the journal. In addition, there are plot holes such as how an ancient civilization that disappeared thousand of years ago knows how to speak English. While Ramsin Canon, who was my editor at Gapers Block, suggested that this could be magic, it’s still a massive plot hole.

There’s also the problem of the film lacking in interesting characters. Even Milo isn’t a very engaging character despite being the central character. Most of the characters are archetypes, even though some don’t work. Sinclair is introduced as a femme fatale-esque character but is incredibly boxy in design compared to Kida. The only member of the crew who is interesting is Vinny and that’s mostly because of his wisecracking lines.

Finally, the film has hideous character designs. Although they’re influenced by the style of Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, that style works well for comics. In this context it really doesn’t work for any of the characters except for the Atlantians and it might just be the people who were assigned to animate them. What’s worse is that watching the DVD the animation felt like a step back from not only “Tarzan,” which proceeded “Atlantis,” but also “Hercules.” The overall design of Atlantis in shots showing the overall city is quite lovely, but that’s about it.

But is Kida a Good Role Model for Children? Yes.

Kida is a strong, intelligent woman who seems to be very independent as someone who is born into royalty. In fact, when members of the expedition try to capture her, she does a great job of fighting them off. Additionally, Kida is shown to care very much for the condition of her fellow Atlantians as well as her father. She also heals Milo, a stranger to her, somewhat early in the film. Kida is a great role model for children.

However, Kida is not an official Disney Princess even though she is the member of the royal family in the film. So why might this be?

The easy answer would be that “Atlantis” performed very poorly at the box office in America. Another reason might be that the film feels like it’s geared towards young boys rather than what a typical person would think girls would like.

But another thing might be that Kida could have been a difficult character to merchandise. Granted, her main outfit for the film would be a great outfit for going to the beach, but it’s not really something that children would run around in when playing in the backyard. And while Disney has the wedding outfits for Aurora, Rapunzel and Tiana as well as Belle and Cinderella’s ballgowns, I can’t see Kida’s outfit when she’s made queen being a big seller at Disney Stores.

While we may never know why Kida is left out of the Disney Princess line, she is a terrific role model and one of the best characters in the film. Unfortunately she’s not worth sitting through the entire movie to have a good role model.

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The Disney Princess Project: “Hercules”

Read our lips, you're in lovePreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas

Mulan, the titular character of the film “Mulan,” is part of the official Disney Princess line-up. Although I’ll discuss it more in-depth when I write about “Mulan,” this puzzles me because Mulan is neither born a princess nor does she end up with anyone of nobility. So since Mulan is a princess, I’ve decided to look at Meg, the main female character in “Hercules” since she ends up with a demi-god.

“Hercules” tells the story of Hercules (Tate Donovan/Josh Keaton/Roger Bart), the son of happy, monogamous Zeus (Rip Torn) and not-psychopathic Hera (Samantha Eggar). In order to fulfill a plot for Hades (James Woods) to take over Mount Olympus, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) kidnap the baby Hercules and try to turn him mortal in order to be able to kill him. Their plan fails and Hercules retains superstrength, but he grows up believing that he is a freak. After finding out that he’s the son of Zeus, he goes to train with Phil (Danny DeVito). Once he’s completed his training, Hercules heads to Thebes and along the way he meets Meg (Susan Egan), a damsel in distress.

Up until this point, all of the character designs in the princess films felt like pretty standard Disney designs. With “Hercules” there are unique character designs that haven’t been seen in any other Disney films. There’s the truly grotesque cyclopes, the hunky Hercules, the varied designs of the muses, and the shapely, beautiful Meg. Watching the film it can be gathered that the animators looked at ancient Greek artwork for inspiration and a guide on the character designs. This helps both establish the settings for the film and give it a unique feel.

“Hercules” is filled with anachronisms, but I find that I have so much fun watching “Hercules” to really care about the anachronisms. While “Pocahontas” is a film that tries to be a Very Important Film, “Hercules” is a film that just wants to be fun, but it ends up helping the film soar rather than tumble. One of the greatest strengths of the film are the gospel-style songs performed by the Muses. In fact, “Hercules” has one of the best Disney songs ever done, which I’ll discuss later.

In terms of critiquing the film, I can’t think of anything I haven’t already said, so we’ll get to the main point.

But is Meg a Good Role Model for Children? Yes, actually.

Meg is the first Disney Princess who is presented as a flawed person. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are flawless. Ariel is rebellious, but it pays off in the end. Belle reads books and that distances her from the villagers, but it pays off. Pocahontas runs off a lot, but she’s still a great person. Meg actually feels like she sits in a moral grey area as she is presented as a damsel in distress who works for Hades. She shows that she’s one of the good guys as the film continues, but it isn’t immediately clear to us that’s the case.

What’s also unique about Meg is that she’s the second Disney character I can think of who is presented as a sexual being. (Frollo in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the first one that comes to my mind because of “Hellfire.”) We see women who swoon over Hercules, but she comes onto him and flirts with him. Even Gaston doesn’t really do that to Belle. There’s also dialogue between Hades and Meg where it’s revealed that Meg sold her soul to Hades to save her significant other’s life, only for him to chase off after some “babe.” So we also are given a character who is hurt because she was left for another woman, something never presented again in a Disney movie, to my knowledge.

What is also astonishing about Meg in the context of the other characters I’ve written about is that we see Meg progressively falling in love with Hercules. While a majority of the characters have instantly seen a guy and declared love for them, Meg slowly falls in love with him. And when it’s clear to the audience that she’s in love with Hercules, there’s then a big number about how she won’t admit that she’s in love with him, which is one of the best songs in a Disney film.

Additionally, rather than having to be rescued at the end of the film, Meg, like Belle, ends up saving the day. But what’s incredible with Meg is that she does save the day by sacrificing herself. (SPOILERS: She lives.) She starts off as a damsel-in-distress, but then becomes one who does the saving by the end of the film. Yes, she’s a pawn for Hades during most of the film, but Meg is one of the strongest female characters in any Disney film and a terrific role model for children.

Just let them know to not sell their souls to the lord of the underworld.

The Disney Princess Project: “Pocahontas”

Can YOU paint with all the colors of the wind?Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast

My opinion of “Pocahontas” is known as I nearly eviscerated it when writing The Great ’90s Animated Film Project. After watching “Cinderella,” “Pocahontas” feels like a masterpiece, so this will not be the scathing post you were expecting.

“Pocahontas” tells the tale of Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), a free-spirited Native American woman who is the daughter of Chief Powahatan (Russel Means). Her hand has been given in marriage to Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall), which is not someone she wants to marry because of how serious he is. Meanwhile, Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson) arrives in The New World with The Virginia Company, led by Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Steirs). Upon arrival, he searches the land and eventually meets Pocahontas, whom he falls in love with. We figure out that they both fall in love by leaves and symbols swirling around them. However, as it is said many times within the first thirty minutes of the film the natives are savages and cannot be trusted, so let’s ravage their land in search of gold that does not exist. Since they are of two different groups of people, Pocahontas and John Smith’s “love” is threatened.

The film starts off with a prologue where we see a painting of London. It seems, like many other things in this film, an attempt to be like “Beauty and the Beast,” but constantly falling short. The painting feels more like the opening of the storybook in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” than the stained glass in “Beauty and the Beast” as its a place setting, but not as a way of telling us what’s going on. The film also ends with a painting depicting Pocahontas saying goodbye to John Smith, which again feels like a “book-end” that we have seen in the previous films. But this feels like a nice little artistic touch rather than something that has a real purpose, like the stained glass in “Beauty and the Beast” or the storybooks.

But why focus on one minor detail when there are numerous flaws with Pocahontas? First of all, the film features one of the weakest villains in a Disney film. Ratcliffe, although determined to get his gold, never really terrifies you like numerous other Disney villains. After all, anyone on that ship, even John Smith before he meets Pocahontas, could have attacked the tribe living where they settled. We also have John Smith, who manages to be an incredibly bland character despite having lots of screen time and an actual name. He’s dashing, has a weird American accent for being English and is nice to Pocahontas, although he does say some insulting things to her. There will be more on her rejecting Kocoum but falling for John Smith later.

What is oddly weak in this film is the score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. While the two later teamed up and wrote the fantastic score for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” most of the score feels incredibly unmemorable. Sure, “Colors of the Wind” is the best-known song, but it feels like a lecture given in song from Pocahontas, set to scenes that feel ready-made for a music video on Disney Channel.

The best song in the whole film happens to be “Savages,” a prelude to potential war between the tribe and the settlers. Like I mentioned in my earlier post on “Pocahontas,” “Savages” is a weaker version of “The Mob Song” in “Beauty and the Beast,” but “Savages” is the catchiest, most energetic song in the entire film. It also provides my favorite bit of animation in the film.Savages! Savages! Savages! Barely even human.

The biggest problem with this film is that it feels like it wants to be a Very Important Film, but Disney films shouldn’t feel like a didactic film. You watch a Disney film to have an escape from the outside world, not to be lectured on the sins of some of our European ancestors. And if Disney wants us to constantly cheer for the Native Americans, it works well since I find the settlers to be straw Evil White Men who are incredibly whitewashed.

But is Pocahontas a Good Role Model for Children? No.

In the beginning, Pocahontas is an incredibly free-spirited woman who is loyal to her tribe. By the end of the film, she has let her infatuation with an English settler whom she just met threaten the safety of her entire tribe. Additionally, when Kocoum is shot, she fails to tell the truth about who killed him. She could easily say, “Father, I saw the man who shot Kocoum. It was a red-haired white man,” but no, she lets John Smith remain tied inside of a tent so they can have a big power ballad.

Additionally, I find it a bit odd that her reasons for rejecting Kocoum are a confusing dream and him being “so serious.” It is established that Kocoum is a skilled warrior who has helped lead the tribe to victory against enemies. Kocoum also happens to be rather hunky and cares very much about Pocahontas’ safety. Sure, history dictates that Pocahontas ends up with a white settler–although it was John Rolfe, not John Smith–but in the line of Disney Princesses who pick one man over another, this is the most confusing.

Perhaps it’s because of “Cinderella” my usual disdain for this film is tempered, but “Pocahontas” is still a bad film that is worth skipping. Honestly, if you are really interested in watching a Disney film with “Pocahontas” in it, you might as well watch the sequel.

The Disney Princess Project: “Beauty and the Beast”

We don't like what we don't understand, in fact it scares us and this monster is mysterious at least. Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty

After a string of flops in the ’80s, Disney had started to turn things around with the massive success of “The Little Mermaid.” Although between “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” “The Rescuers Down Under” happened, but overall, Disney was starting to rebound after a fairly dismal ’80s. This movie has ended up being maybe one of the most iconic Disney films ever made, which brings the question of why is it best known?

“Beauty and the Beast” tells the timeless story of a woman who falls in love with a man who imprisons her. At the start of the film, we learn that the Prince (Robby Benson) has been transformed into a beast after turning away an enchantress who was disguised as a beggar woman seeking shelter. Meanwhile, Belle (Paige O’Hara) lives in a “poor provincial town” with her father, Maurice (Rex Everhart). Belle is viewed as odd for her book reading habits, but town hunk and overall manly man Gaston (Richard White) vows that he will marry her. One day, Maurice is lost in the forest and ends up at the Beast’s now-enchanted castle. The Beast, not pleased with his presence, makes Maurice his prisoner. The family horse returns how and informs belle, who trades herself in to grant her father’s freedom. Although she is now the prisoner of the Beast, talking candelabra Lumiere (Jerry Orbach, hamming it up) and teapot Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) make her feel at home, much to the dismay of talking clock Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers). While Gaston plots to get Belle to be his wife, Belle and the Beast begin to fall in love with each other.

The strongest and most memorable aspect of this film is the magnificent score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. It is impossible to name a weak number in this film. There’s “Belle,” which manages to tell a lot of exposition in one number; “Gaston,” which manages to have numerous interesting rhymes; the famed “Beauty and the Beast,” which is a sweet song from someone observing love; and the brilliant “Mob Song,” which is kind of copied for “Pocahontas.” In a list of the top five scores for an animated Disney film, “Beauty and the Beast” easily makes the list, possibly topping the list. (In my opinion, it is the best, but opinions differ.)

The film also features excellent animation. Although it might help that more than thirty years had passed between the release of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Beauty and the Beast,” we see backgrounds that are even more details. The film also opens with a fantastic sequence that shows a camera zooming in on the castle from the forest surrounding the castle before telling the story of the curse through stained glass images. The stained glass also serves as a bookend to the film, opening with that telling the prologue and then closing with the happy ending. Although, if I remember correctly, “The Little Mermaid” does not have a “bookend” opening and closing, so the filmmakers of “Beauty and the Beast” borrow something seen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” and use it to a great effect.

The film also features great, varied, developed main characters who want something. The only character that falls short in developing is oddly Gaston because while he wants Belle to be his wife, we never really find out why he wants Belle to be his wife. She’s the girl in town that everything thinks is odd, so why would the man that could have any woman he wants want her? Other than to maybe prove that he really can fulfill the idea that everyone has, that he can have any woman he wants because he’s Gaston.

“Beauty and the Beast” is one of the finest films Disney has ever made as both storytellers and animators. There is a reason why this film is considered a classic. It is not only a must-watch Disney film, but a must-watch film. However…

But is Belle a Good Role Model for Children? Umm

See, we do get the impression that Belle is a very independent woman. She enjoys reading books, even though such an interest is considered perverse in the town where she lives. While some women would accept Gaston because he’s handsome and incredibly masculine, Belle rejects him because she knows she can do better.

But then she falls in love with the Beast.

Now I realize that falling in love is kind of an obligatory plot point for Disney Princess films, but the problem with this is not that she falls in love, but whom she falls in love with. The Beast has massive rage issues. He only moves Belle from the dungeon to a room because his servants suggest he do so, and once she’s there he tells her that she must go to dinner. When Belle doesn’t comply, he first threatens to break down the door of her room then tells her that since she won’t eat with him, she’ll starve. The only reason why Belle eats is because Lumiere and Mrs. Potts ensure that she does. (Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and the Wardrobe are the sweetest characters in the film, by the way.)

Granted, the Beast does save her from being attacked from wolves after she runs away because he kicked her out of a wing she was forbidden from visiting. And as discussed in “Something There,” the Beast starts to show a kinder side, presumably because of Belle.

Additionally, the moment when Beast releases Belle occurs after “Beauty and the Beast” when she sees the danger Maurice is in and he says “I release you.” After this, Belle is in the village and shows the citizens, led by Gaston, the beast via mirror and they’re horrified. Belle fights this by saying, “He’d never harm anyone” forgetting him threatening to break down her door, telling her to starve and getting incredibly angry at her for being somewhere he told her to not go.

Although this movie doesn’t give the impression that you’re not complete without a prince, the message that a man can change if you give him time is a bit troublesome. Granted, Belle really doesn’t have an opportunity to leave since she’s being held prisoner, but it still feels like it can be very problematic. Then again, it is very possible that the gentle side of Beast is finally brought out by her, which was the point of the Enchantress’ spell.

I will point out, however, that this is the first film with a Disney Princess where there isn’t instantaneous love. Belle slowly falls in love with the Beast and actually seems to be afraid him in the beginning of the film. So I will give the relationship between Belle and Beast credit for that.

So here’s a compromise: Since “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the best movies Disney ever made, I highly recommend that you watch it if you haven’t. However, it might be good to have a chat with children that you can’t change a man and if you are in a relationship where a man has in the past threatened you and denied you things like food, you should get out immediately. Sound good?

Alternatives: “Cinderella”

We hide our flaws until after the wedding (Due to a long wait for “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” to come from Netflix as well as an inability to obtain a copy anywhere, I’m going to look at movies I will or would recommend instead of the Disney Princess film.)

Brandy and Whitney Houston. Bernadette Peters and Whoopi Goldberg. Jason Alexander and Victor Garber.

Now that I have your attention, I would like to discuss the Made for TV movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which I said in my post on “Cinderella” that it is a better Cinderella story than the 1950 “Cinderella.” This particular film was made by Disney in 1997 for The Wonderful World of Disney and could maybe be praised its colorblind casting since that’s something TV is struggling with even today.

This “Cinderella” focuses on Cinderella (Brandy), who is a servant to her stepmother (Peters) and stepsisters, Minerva (Natalie Desselle-Reid) and Calliope (Veanne Cox). While at the market one day, she meets Prince Christopher (Paolo Montalban), who is in disguise so he can have a normal day. They click when they meet, but Cinderella must head off with her stepfamily. When Christopher returns to the castle, he finds out that his parents, King Maximillian (Garber) and Queen Constantina (Goldberg), are holding a ball to find a wife for their son. Cinderella wants to go to the festival ball, but that’s preposterous according to her stepmother because of her looks and station. Of course, the stepmother is out to only get a title and marriage, which troubles Cinderella. After her family departs for the ball, she wishes to go to the ball and her Fairy Godmother (Houston) appears, giving her a carriage and a gown. She arrives at the ball and falls in love with the prince, only to have to flee at midnight.

Cinderella actually has depth in this film. Here she dreams of leaving her current life, but it’s not specifically through the prince. Yes, she wants to go to the ball but she doesn’t see marriage as a way to escape her life. Similarly, the prince has a personality and is an interesting character. The prince isn’t just some cute prop that Cinderella falls for. In fact, we can actually understand why Cinderella would want to marry this guy because he’s actually very sweet.

We also have a horrible stepmother. While Lady Tremaine mostly sits or stands and grins wickedly, the stepmother in this film actually has a speech where she tells Cinderella that no prince could be attracted to her because she’s common. She schemes, but she also demeans her stepdaughter and uses her daughters to try to advance her position.

This film also benefits from not having any talking mice, although Jason Alexander’s accent might take some time to get used to because it is initially off-putting since he’s the only person in this film with an accent. But compared to the incomprehensible mice we are subjected to in the animated “Cinderella.” Although the fairy godmother in the animated movie is silly, Houston is absolutely fabulous in the role. What also helps is that she dispenses wisdom that is beyond needing magic to make your dreams come true. At one point she tells Cinderella that the only person stopping her from going to the ball is herself. The message that conveys to children is that even if you are wearing rags, you are fabulous and loveable because of who you are on the inside.

Christopher also falls in love with Cinderella because she is both beautiful and charming. As far as we can tell Prince Charming only falls in love with Cinderella in the animated film because she’s in a pretty dress and has a nice hairdo. (Also, Brandy and Moltaban have great chemistry.)

As a musical, this film also features terrific musical numbers with fantastic choreography by Rob Marshall. Yes, the same guy who directed “Chicago” did the choreography for this film. But while all the numbers in this are fantastic, the group numbers pop because of the choreography and how they’re staged. The best example of this is the ball where couples are dancing around the floor dressed in blue and purple, flawlessly moving in synch.

However, the film shows its age with the special effects. Instead of pixie dust, we have these curls that resemble clip art that float around the fairy godmother. Although I can understand why this is done, it looks incredibly cheap. There are also moments where it seems as though the fairy godmother was supposed to look like she was flying to accompany Cinderella on the way to the ball. Unfortunately, it ends up looking like a hologram of the fairy godmother has been juxtaposed onto the carriage.

Other than the special effects, the only thing I can knock the film for is that Garber doesn’t do any singing in it, but that’s a personal thing and not something that directly influences the merit of the film. For those who are looking for a good princess story with musical numbers to share with children, this is an excellent film that also has the Disney name accompanying it. This is also a great movie for musical theater fans to watch both for the cast that is assembled as well as the staging.

The Disney Princess Project: “Sleeping Beauty”

BLUE! PINK! Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella

“Sleeping Beauty” is the final film of the Storybook Trilogy, a term I’m using to describe the three Disney Princess films that are framed by a storybook. These have films that are ultimately fairly faithful elaborations on classic fairy tales and feature incredibly detailed visuals. What’s also interesting is that while we have three films that feature princesses or girls who become princesses heavily in the plot, the next time we see an official Disney Princess is 30 years later with “The Little Mermaid.” (“The Black Cauldron” features a princess, but that movie failed and isn’t included probably because of how dark it is and how poorly it did at the box office.)

“Sleeping Beauty,” which is adapted from the Charles Perrault story and has a score adapted from the ballet by Tchalkovsky, is essentially Disney’s art film. Yes, the film’s titular character is being used now to sell shoes, socks and sippy cups, but if you pay close attention to the film it isn’t like most Disney films. (Neither is “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” but we’ll get to that in a few weeks.) There’s really only one major musical number, “Once Upon a Dream,” and all of the other songs are choral pieces that underscore scenes, similar to the Latin singing in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The film however does not really focus on Princess Aurora (Mary Costa), the Sleeping Beauty. The film starts off at the birth of Aurora, which is a wildly celebrated event. Everyone is invited, except Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), who decides to gift Aurora with a curse that she will die on her sixteenth birthday after pricking her finger with the needle of a spinning wheel. Concerned for her safety, King Stefan (Taylor Holmes), burns all of the spinning wheels while three fairies, Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy); decide to raise Aurora as Briar Rose and lead her to believe that she’s been taken in by three peasant women. Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, the fairies prep for the party while Aurora is out in the woods. There, she meets Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), whom she’s been engaged to since she was born. They fall in love and return to where they came from. Meanwhile, the fairies fighting has informed Maleficent that the fairies are in the forest, so she knows where Aurora is. When the fairies take Aurora to the castle, Maleficent leads Aurora to a spinning wheel where she pricks herself and falls asleep, but does not die thanks to a spell put on her by Merryweather. The fairies put the entire castle under a sleeping spell and they try to save Phillip so he can save the kingdom.

Although this is entitled “Sleeping Beauty,” it could really be retitled “Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.” In fact, other than to have Aurora fall in love with Phillip so that they’re in love and not just fulfilling the obligations of arranged marriage, the scene set in the forest is basically about the fairies trying to prep for a party without magic. Is it compelling film? No. But that’s what the film focuses on. In fact, Aurora could never be seen on screen and we could just be told of what happens and the film could possibly function quite well. This isn’t to suggest that the film would be better without Aurora, I’m just trying to point out how unimportant she feels to the film. I can excuse that Phillip seems to take over the film in the last quarter of it since he has to save the princess, but it does seem odd that the fairies–there were seven in the Perrault story–dominate the story.

The best part of watching the film, other than the arranged and adapted score, has to be the visuals. While there were already great backgrounds with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Cinderella,” here are backgrounds that have depth, such as in a banquet hall in the castle. Another interesting thing is that almost all of the characters have either sharp lines for faces or very round lines, an interesting character design since it’s not exactly realistic, but some of it would carry on in Disney animation.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a film to enjoy based on how it is constructed as art, I would say that “Sleeping Beauty” would be a great movie. But for a movie to watch based on its princess, not so much. Which brings me to the main point.

But is Aurora a Good Role Model for Children? No.

This is mostly because of the lack of characterization for Aurora that I discussed earlier. Maybe if she felt as instrumental to the plot as Snow White or Cinderella were, I could give a definitive answer. But other than that she’s pretty, kind and sings well, but two of those were the result of gifts that Flora and Fauna bestowed on her. Normally, I would criticize her falling in love with a guy she thinks she just met, but I feel like that was put in so that it wouldn’t seem so bad when she ends up with the guy she’s been betrothed to since she was a baby. I also can’t criticize her engagement since that was kind of common back then.

The Disney Princess Project: “Cinderella”

The mice are so annoyingPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

All I could remember of watching “Cinderella” when I was little is that I was bored, found the mice annoying and thought that the line “Wait! But I don’t even know your name!” to be absolutely hilarious. At that time, I enjoyed “Ever After” and the TV Movie version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical more. After all, the 1997 TV movie had Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, Bernadette Peters, Whitney Houston, Brandy and Victor Garber. If you haven’t seen it, you must because it’s amazing mostly because of the cast assembled. But I am not here to tell you about the 1997 TV movie. I am here to tell you about the 1950 film.

In a way, “Cinderella” seems like the tainted movie. It has suffered from two direct-to-video sequels, Cinderella seems to be the main princess in the Disney Princess franchise–there are 108 items for Cinderella on DisneyStore.com, although there are 111 for Snow White–and in “Sophia the First: Once Upon a Princess,” Cinderella is the one princess summoned by Sophia to save the day. Cinderella is the alpha-princess of the Disney Princess franchise, which seems a bit odd since she is from the second-oldest film that is included in the franchise. But she gets the most iconic dress–although I find Tiana’s wedding dress to be prettier–and ends up with the guy that could best be described as traditionally handsome. (Although I would take Captain Li Shang and Hercules any day over Prince Charming.)

But unfortunately “Cinderella” is as unmemorable as I remember, but not as boring.

As the story goes, there was once a man who had a daughter named Cinderella (Ilene Woods), whom he loved very much. But the man married a woman, Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley), who had two daughters, Anastasia (Lucille Bliss) and Drizella (Rhoda Williams). One day, the man dies, which leads to Lady Tremaine wasting the family fortune. She abuses Cinderella and makes her the family servant and we are informed that the house falls into disrepair. One day, the king (Luis Van Rooten) holds a ball to find a wife for his son and the house Tremaine receives an invitation. Of course, Lady Tremaine and her daughters intent to go, but Cinderella lets them know that she wishes to go to the festival and dance before the prince. Her mice and bird friends make her a dress for the ball, but they stole items from Anastasia and Drizella, who rip the items off of Cinderella, ensuring that she can’t go to the ball. Cinderella cries in the courtyard and a fairy godmother (Verna Felton) appears, giving a coach, horses, and a white-blue ball gown that is “daring.” She goes to the ball, catches the eye of Prince Charming (William Phipps)–yes, he is actually named Prince Charming–and falls in love. But the clock strikes midnight and she flees, leading to a kingdom-wide search for the girl who is missing a glass slipper.

Oh, and there are some annoying mice named Jaq and Gus (Jimmy MacDonald) and a cat named Lucifer (June Foray).

“Cinderella” in some ways resembles “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” such as the use of a storybook as a framing device and the manuscript-like text for the opening credits. There is beautiful animation, mostly with the backgrounds, such as the courtyard when Cinderella is crying or the entire “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale” sequence. But the biggest problem with the animation is that it tells instead of shows.

We are told by the narrator that the House Tremaine falls into disrepair, but the house looks beautiful. Perhaps Cinderella’s scrubbing of the floors really does help, but I keep thinking that Cinderella must be a terrific painter and have impeccable wallpaper skills since the house looks immaculate considering it has fallen into disrepair. We are also told that the stepsisters are ugly, but other than giving the audience perpetual stinkface, they don’t seem to be ugly. In fact, I’d say that their dresses for the ball are prettier than Cinderella’s initial one, but that might be because their dresses weren’t made by mice and birds. Yes, the stepsisters are awful, abusive women, but unless the narrator is talking about inner beauty, we are only to believe that they are ugly because the narrator tells us to and because they aren’t Cinderella.

The biggest problem with this movie–other than that the prince is actually named Prince Charming–is that we have Cute Animal Sidekicks that reach levels of annoying that rival Terk in Tarzan and Mater. For starters, the only way to understand Jaq and Gus is to have the subtitles on while watching the movie. Then, they have an incredibly high pitched voice and speak so quickly that one has to wonder if even slowing down their dialogue would still have them speaking too quickly. On top of that, we are treated to extended sequences where Jaq and Gus fight with Lucifer because, guess what, cats hate mice.

Early in the movie we get an approximately ten-minute-long sequence where the mice decide to upset Lucifer. This does nothing for the movie–it provides no physical comedy, no important furthering of the plot–but it still exists.

Of course, Cinderella just wants everyone to get along and is appalled that Lucifer does not get along with the mice and that the dog does not like Lucifer.

There’s also the odd aspect that all the animals except Lucifer and the dog wear clothing. This implies to us that there is such a thing as naked creatures in this film. This means that when we first meet Gus he’s wearing no clothes, which feels like he’s naked. This always disturbed me as a child, but perhaps that is not intended by the filmmakers.

And then there’s the royal family who serves as props. Yes, the king tends to get angry easily and is not nearly as great as Victor Garber as the king in the 1997 TV movie. But we have the prince, who doesn’t even seem to get a proper name. Who names their son Charming? That’s like naming the one trans character in your TV show “Unique.” (No, wait, that’s worse than naming your son Charming.) The prince only has one characteristic and that is that he’s attractive. They only serve to make Cinderella’s dreams come true because her only dream in life is to go to the ball and maybe have all the animals get along.

Which brings us to the reason I watched this movie…

But is Cinderella a Good Role Model for Children?: No.

The film sends a message to children that the way to happiness is by marrying a prince. Cinderella doesn’t intend to go to the ball in order to win a prince, like her stepsisters, but she falls in love with a man at first sight and dances with. Granted, falling in love with a man you barely know is something that pops up often in Disney movies–we’ll see this again in “The Little Mermaid,” “Pocahontas” and “The Princess and the Frog”–so this means that it will irk me immensely in subsequent pieces. At least this can be justified in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Sleeping Beauty” because both Snow White and Aurora were princesses and it was common in the time periods the films are set for princesses to participate in loveless arranged marriages.

Furthermore, Cinderella is maybe the most one-dimensional protagonist ever created for a Disney film. Except for when her dress is ruined, she only seems to have one mood, something that none of the other princesses I will examine have. In fact, were it not for the ball, she really wouldn’t seem to have any goals in life.

There are two Cinderella films that I mentioned earlier that would be better for giving a role model for children if you want to use this story. First there’s “Ever After,” which presents a bad-ass Cinderella character in Danielle (played by Drew Barrymore) who initially resists falling in love with the prince, but slowly falls in love with him. There’s also the 1997 TV movie which has Cinderella meet the prince early in the film and then appear at the ball. If you want a good role model while also presenting the Cinderella story, I suggest you look there.